19 January 2011

quick reads

gathering blue by lois lowry

the story and setting were intriguing and quickly pulled me through the pages. gathering blue is set in a very small scale futuristic society, which after war and upheaval, has developed very strict customs. there are some children with extraordinary talents that could change the (almost entirely) negative way of life. the story builds up anticipation for great changes but the conclusion is anticlimactic. the main character was not as quick on the uptake as i expected - she seems observant and intelligent, yet doesn't make some very obvious logical connections. instead her younger sidekick is the one who draws conclusions and acts. the closing scene showing the main character poised for action is not quite believable, as she didn't seem to have developed the brains and gumption for it. the book is perhaps too obviously written as a "teaching" book, focusing more on drawing the conflict between opposing ideas and leaving the discussion and resolution for the classroom. oh well. it was an ok read overall.

and, on a side note, are there any futuristic/rewritten history tales where the men are reduced to breeding and manly chores, and allowed no education or opinions? the stereotype of women being held back gets a bit old sometimes.

serenity: the shepherd's tale by zack and joss whedon

lots of anticipation was built into this graphic novel: at last the super secret background of shepherd book (from the firefly series) was to be revealed. the events go steadily back in time, illuminating the journey of book's life as if going through a dying man's memories. it was an interesting read, and an intriguing method of exposition, as the story jumped between scenes, often connected by a single word. the stream of memories revealed different sides of book's character and past. enough was revealed to answer the questions raised in the show, without too much explanation, and satisfied my curiosity. the simple telling fills out book's character as we already know him from the series. and hey, there was a jayne scene in there!

the particular sadness of lemon cake by aimee bender

this book came to my attention through a summer post on sur la lune, which i only read recently. luckily, there was no waiting list and i nabbed it from the library right away. i sat down to read for 15 minutes and ended up reading through the whole book in an afternoon. the prose is well-written and flows easily. the lack of punctuation in the conversations made them seem more like conversations, no commas or quotation marks for your eyes to hang up on.

overtly, the book's premise is the main character's ability to taste someone's emotions in the food they cook. what was truly fascinating was not the details of tasting someone else's unconscious emotions but examining flawed family relationships and different ways we keep people at a distance. the main character, rose, discovers her ability as she's turning 9 and the sudden knowledge of the hidden sides of others becomes a barrier for rose. rose's family is already emotionally distant and rose learns to hide from the negative and surprising emotions in food and rarely interacts with people directly. very slowly, events conspire to help rose realize there's more to people than the emotions she finds in their food.

rather like real life, there is no neat and tidy solution to everything, but rose begins to reach out to others and develop her own stunted emotions. food remains an intermediary, however, which is sort of disturbing. the lack of a clear conclusion was a bit annoying, too much like everyday life with its unfinished ends. leaving it open allows room for the imagination to continue where rose left off though, and consider possibilities for more open relationships with people without the need for any kind of intermediary. rose's talent/curse can be compared to experiences we all have growing up that can turn into walls between us and others, and her coming to terms with her experiences makes me wonder how far i've come in the same process. i will probably read this book again, which definitely counts as a thumbs up.

10 January 2011

2010 in review

looking back, i am impressed with myself. i thought i only posted once last year, but there's 3 whole posts up! 2010 was similar to 2009 in many ways, which is why we have a huge round up post rather than shorter, more regular posts. so, the last year in review, if not in chronological order:
  • in the spring, chuck changed jobs, then got fired, and now drives a school bus. that was a whole mixed bag. he was looking for less work stress, which he now has. he's also been wanting to get out of banking, which he has. the initial job switch let us use part of chuck's retirement to pay off a huge debt (with one tiny click. i savored that moment). we're now down to almost a third of the debt chuck had when we got married. not having that $900 monthly payment and several small miracles helped us through the 3 months of unemployment before the bus job and makes it easier to live on the lower income.
  • archy work was very short this year, a measly 3 months. i worked in delta again, with all the fun side effects of living in two places that i noted last year. the work and crew were great though. site monitering is where it's at. you hike out to a known site, relocate surface artifacts, make sure the military hasn't blown a hole in anything, take some pictures and notes, then repeat. i loved it. still wish there was a good option for winter archaeological work up here........
  • about the same time chuck started driving buses, i started working part time at a yarn store. work has tapered off, so i ought to look for something else, but it's been tons of fun helping people with their knitting and picking out yarn.
  • i played more with homemade stuff. we haven't really bought bread since 09, and i've made my own tortillas and english muffins besides sandwich, french and flat breads. our garden gave us lots of potatoes that we're still eating, along with squash. everything else we ate as it ripened. i wish we could grow enough tomatoes to put up. we gathered blueberries, most of which we froze, and lingon (lowbush cranberries), that were turned into cranberry sauce. i also made spruce tip jelly, which has an interesting spicy sweet flavor. next year i want to try rose petal jelly from all the prickly rose in the yard. Homemade mustard and barbecue sauce are in the fridge, along with homegrown (homelaid?) eggs, some of them blue. chuck raised broiler chickens again, so we haven't bought chicken for 2 years. he also raised a turkey that grew to 25 pounds and barely fit in our tiny oven on thanksgiving, and we have 6 laying hens. they average 4-5 eggs daily, more than we can eat, so we trade them for moose and caribou meat. i even made laundry detergent too! seems we buy less and less at the store. mostly i try stuff out for fun, and because i like knowing how to make my food and what's in it and changing things to suit my taste. none of it took very much time (the jelly was a small batch) and costs very little. i made soft cheese, but for the cost of milk vs the lower cost of cheese and considering the ratio of milk to finished cheese......we will keep buying cheese.
  • we bought season tickets for UAF hockey while we had money in the summer, and now the games are like free dates.
  • i apparently knit a storm through the year, ending up with more large projects (shawls and sweaters) than before. i also experimented with some new things, knitting with wire and making small toys.2010 finished knits
    that doesn't count anything started but not finished of course. i knit more for myself - it makes no sense for me to not have enough socks when i'm the one knitting them. out of 25 finished projects, 11 were for myself, almost half and a definite improvement. mostly i knit from stash, since yarn was not really in our budget this year. sweaters were probably the most satisfying projects while socks were not my friend all. year. long. fitting issues. hopefully to be fixed in 2011.
  • the fairbanks knitting group just gets more awesome with time. they're a great mix of people with very different tastes and backgrounds and opinions, yet mostly we manage to encourage each other and have intriguing conversations. if we moved, they would be the people i missed.
  • we got lots of yardwork done while we were unemployed together. the raised flower beds i built in 07 have been slowly but steadily eroding and we had started building boxes for them in the spring. we finished those and planted rhubarb, a red currant plant, daffodils, tulips and crocus. ever since living in sweden i've wanted crocus of my own to peep out from the melting snow. we even cleaned out the prickly rose from the raspberry bushes and raked leaves! not all of them, but more than normal. i almost like our yard now.
  • my wisdom teeth were pulled dug out in the spring. i was a bit worried, from the horror stories told to my body's high tolerance for medication to getting an IV and being put under for the first time ever. my mouth felt crowded though, and the new teeth were trying to push aside other teeth. so it had to be done, and in the end? not so bad. i almost wouldn't mind doing it again. the IV took a couple tries and hurt more than anything else. the dentist had to give me two hits of anesthesia to knock me out and as i came to, he clearly asked is she waking up already? that didn't make me feel too good, but they were almost done. there was a bit of swelling, and i got a cool ice pack band to wrap around my head. made me feel like i was in an old time war movie.wisdom teeth aftermath
    i took the (huge) aspirin they gave me and nothing else and was back to work on monday without missing a day since the surgery was on friday, my day off. the pains from crowded teeth were gone and i was happy. although i'd've been happier if i could have kept the teeth for souvenirs..........
  • we signed up for the rosetta stone online through the military. i'm reviewing spanish, and filling in some everyday words missing from my vocabulary, while chuck is learning swedish. i love hearing him learn, it's more exciting for me than him i think. he's improved in every lesson and i can't wait till his vocabulary is large enough to have conversations.
  • i read lots too, although i have no idea where i fit it and the knitting in. according to goodreads, i read 45 books this year. that's almost one a week, not too bad. some really good ones were: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by patricia wrede and caroline stevermer, a lighthearted, funny fantasy with sequels to follow. stieg larsson's girl who.... series was a fascinating mix of mystery, journalism, crime solving, and political corruption set in sweden. they were gripping reads, and had fairly accurate descriptions of swedes. the only downside was the sexual crimes against women, but i suppose that was the point. the latest additions to the vlad taltos series, jhegaala and dzur, by steve brust added more depth to vlad's character. despite being quick reads, they kept me thinking long after reading. in defense of food by michael pollan made an interesting analysis of our current food culture and how traditional food culture has been manipulated for commerce. an extremely well-written and highly creepy fitcher's brides by gregory frost i would recommend for the writing and morals but won't re-read. i'd like to sleep at night, thank you very much. another non-fiction book i really enjoyed was the paradox of choice by barry schwartz. he delves into the unconscious and conscious factors that go into all our choices, big and small. the book was not as dry as i anticipated and points out a need for us to limit our own options to make effective choices. an interesting concept.

    annoyingly less good were: water for elephants by sara gruen, which a few of us in the knitting group read. the story just seemed to descend into melodrama and ended in an unlikely series of events. it started well, but i felt cheated at the end. name of the rose by umberto eco has sat on my shelves unread since high school. now it can sit on someone else's shelves. the long involved story of medieval religious heresies and dissidents is mixed with murders at an abbey. when revealed, the motive for the murders seems absurd and superficial. cheated again. wuthering heights by emily bronte confirms that british female romance writers are not for me. a bunch of whiny noble people make bad choices which have bad consequences and i think i'm supposed to feel sorry for them. um, nope. sorry. think i'll avoid the bronte's along with austen from now on.
  • the week of thanksgiving it rained. this just doesn't happen in interior alaska. the warm weather made the foot or so of snow on the roof slide off, which normally happens in april. the fall compacted it all and made normal shoveling impossible. when it started coming off the deck in solid square chunks, what could i do but make a wall? crenelations and archer slits possibly to be added later.
  • since summer, chuck has been working on painting the kitchen cupboards (the ones he took the doors off the summer before). the kitchen has slowly transformed from a dark green and gunky yellow 70s combo
    kitchen cupboards before
    to a much brighter white (inside), blue, and yellow.
    kitchen cupboards, after
    the colors remind me of sweden and make the kitchen a thousand times brighter. i love it. the cupboard doors have been materializing the last couple weeks, and after a year and a half without doors, it feels odd being unable to just reach in and grab what i want.
  • we watched more than a few movies in 2010, but not many made it to our favorites list. we really enjoyed blind side, ondine and the A team remake. oddly enough, tv on dvd was much more popular with us (we don't ever watch any tv shows on tv). a random series of events introduced us to the 2005 season of doctor who. september and october were a haze of the 5 recent seasons. it's a crazy, unpredictable, upbeat, funny british sci-fi space/time travel show and if you haven't seen it, do. you never know what will happen and yet only a few times is the story so outlandish that it seems impossible. we're waiting anxiously for next season to start, and have infected the grandkids with the addiction. we finished watching the dollhouse show, joss whedon is my hero for interesting tv. it's a bummer his shows have such short runs.
  • we got a couple camping trips in. we took the bratlings camping in denali in the spring and hiked with them all day with no complaints from grownups or kids.
    denali hike
    chuck kidnapped me to paxson lake for a relaxing weekend in the summer, complete with canoeing and a beautiful sunset.
    paxson lake sunset
    we also finally hiked angel rocks together. we've been saying we'd do that for years. the trail starts out on the valley floor and climbs to the ridge top
    angel rocks
    where granite tors are eroding into cool formations and caves. angel rocks cave
    which of course we had to explore a bit, crawling into that hole behind us that opens into some small caves, then out the other side.
  • on the winter solstice, we saw the total lunar eclipse. apparently the last time one happened on the solstice was in the 1600s. the moon wasn't totally blacked out but looked shadowed, like seeing it through a black curtain. very cool phenomenon, but we couldn't get a photo that didn't look like a black sky.
  • after the very long break i've had in blogging, i have a clearer idea how i want to blog, a way to balance my content. several blogs i read manage to have good, varied content in short posts and i think i have learned from their good example. i suppose this next year will be the test. my iphone was no replacement for the internet and so there are still podcasts and blogs being caught up on.

all in all, 2010 was a good year. i never got tired of being home with my husband. i'm grateful for my friends, talking to family over holidays, and all the little miracles that keep me going every day. i'm thankful i can do so many things that i enjoy and are meaningful to me, which luckily tend not to be very expensive. reading my summing up post on 2009, i must have got something right in the balance department this year. the year was equally disruptive, busy, and i still worked out of town yet i feel as if i did more in most areas of life and feel more peaceful and happy looking back. i have to keep doing that.